Smile Politely

An adventure in accessibility

I love movies. I love going to the movies, and this week I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness at the new Savoy 16 IMAX theater. And, as much as I enjoy Star Trek, and movies in general, this is not a movie review that you’re reading. The truth is, I went to the movies this week on an exploratory journey of my own. My mission: to find out if the new Savoy 16 IMAX Theater is accessible.

Before I tell you what occurred during my trek to get into and enjoy the movie, there are a few vital pieces of information I need to share before I recount my experience at the theater. I have a disability known as cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the motor control centers of the developing brain and can occur during pregnancy, during childbirth, or after birth up to about age three. Cerebral palsy limits movement and makes keeping good posture challenging and physical activity difficult. Impairments can also be found in cognition, and epilepsy is found in about one-third of cases.

My specific severity of cerebral palsy is mild, but fine motor control is an issue for me when walking short distances or standing for long periods of time. I usually use an electric wheelchair to move around in daily life, but when going to different locations around town I utilize a manual chair.

My evening at Savoy 16 started when I got off of the MTD ADA bus. I struggled to push myself up the ramp, and when I reached the accessible door that usually is at the top of the ramp, I was disheartened to learn the entrance had been designated as an exit. So then I had to wheel myself to the entrance located in the middle of the theater.

Upon entering the wide-open space of the theater via the help of a patron, the manager immediately approached me and offered to help me get my IMAX ticket with my VIP card. Because I’m a film critic and frequent patron, we’d met before. After receiving my ticket, I wheeled down the carpeted hallway to the IMAX. I got tired halfway through the journey, and the manager offered to push me the rest of the way. I accepted.

When I rolled into the IMAX, I discovered it had a stadium-like shape to the seating with chairs on either side. The theater was marginally full, but eventually I chose a seat on the left side. I decided to walk up the steps four rows from the very back of the theater in the left middle seat. The trek to my seat was incredibly difficult as there was only one long handrail and it was on the right hand side facing parallel to the newly decorated wall. The theater chairs are spaced farther apart from the steps than I expected because of the IMAX’s building design. Because of this, in order to maintain balance, I had to hold on to another theater patron’s arm to walk to my seat. Another challenge I faced was the fact that the stairs were different sizes. There were three short steps to walk up, then one long one to get to the row of seats. This made the climb exponentially harder, and the trip back down even more of a chore. The last hurdle I faced was one I never expected: the walk getting to my seat.

Normally, when I walk an aisle to get to a seat I depend on the chairs ahead of me and the arm rest behind me to move quickly down the aisle. In the IMAX, however, some of the arm rests were not in the down position, which caused me to have to reach down and use a seat for balance while alternating my hands to get to the next seat. Luckily I have the ability to perform such fine motor control maneuvers, but this could prove a challenge for other people with mobility issues.

Once I had reached my seat, I sat down and watched the film. Again, this isn’t a movie review you’re reading. Afterward, I repeated the earlier process, but with slightly more difficulty because I had been sitting for two hours and twelve minutes.

So, was it worth the trouble I went through? My answer is that it depends on how physically capable you are of handling such a feat. If you are someone with a disability who regularly finds yourself in these situations, then go ahead and make the trip to the IMAX’s comfy leather chairs as often as possible. If that is not the case, accessible seating in the IMAX is readily available for your comfort.

One last thing: I should note that there are nearly always good Samaritans willing to help you get where you need to go when it comes to movie theater seating. If sitting in a theater seat in a certain row is your desire, do not be afraid to ask for assistance. We’re all there to have an enjoyable movie experience; and, thanks to a great theater staff, my own physical prowess, and an understanding viewing public, I boldly went where I had never gone before: to see a Star Trek film in glorious 3D IMAX.

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